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2023 Nordic Spencer Stuart Board Index

2023 Snapshot

 41 %

of board directors in the region are women


out of 100 boards are chaired by women

 38 %

of board directors are foreign

 47 %

of all new directors are women

All figures exclude employee representatives unless specified

Women directors

Women are well-represented on Nordic company boards in the period covered by the 2023 Board Index (1 June 2022-31 May 2023). Gains towards gender parity are being made across the countries in the region.

Among the four countries under review, Norway is the only one where a specific gender quota is in place. The Norwegian Public Limited Liability Companies Act (1997) stipulates that the board must represent both genders as follows:

(i) if the board has two or three members, both genders must be represented; (ii) if the board has four or five members, each gender must be represented by at least two; (iii) if the board has from six to eight members, each gender must be represented by at least three; (iv) if the board has nine members, each gender must be represented by at least four; and (v) if the board has more than nine members, each gender must be represented by at least 40%.

Furthermore, a recent EU directive stipulates that at least 40% of the underrepresented gender must be represented on non-executive boards of listed companies, or 33% among all directors.

At the time of our research, 41% of all board members across the region are women, a slight increase from 39% in 2022.

Consistent with previous years, Norwegian boards recorded the highest proportion of female representation with 45%, the same figure as in 2022. Swedish boards followed closely with 41% (up from 39% in 2022).

Denmark and Finland both increased female board representation — rising to 38% in Denmark (from 37% in 2022) and 39% in Finland (from 36%).

Women on boards (%)

Nordic countries have had great progress regarding female representation on the board in the past five years. This progress can be seen most clearly In Denmark — women’s share of board seats rose from 28% in 2018 to 38% this year (an increase of 36%)

In Sweden, the proportion has increased slightly, with 39% female representation in 2018 and 41% this year (up 5%). In Finland, it rose from 33% to 39% (up 18%).

Female representation on Norwegian boards have stagnated over the past three years at 45%.

Women in leadership positions

Leadership positions on boards include board chairs, deputy chairs, and committee chairs. Although women are being represented more comprehensively at board-level, it is important to ensure that this representation extends across all seniority levels.

At the cut-off date, 10 boards (10%) were chaired by women, rising from eight (8%) in 2022, 8%.

Four (16%) Norwegian boards have female chairs. The four are: Orla Noonan at Adevinta, Olaug Svarva at DNB, Gisele Marchand at Gjensidige Forsikring, and Thorhild Widvey at Var Energi. Gunn Wærsted left her role as chair of Telenor in May 2023.

Denmark has two female chairs — Dominique Reiniche at Chr. Hansen and Deirdre Connelly at Genmab.

Finland and Sweden recorded one female chair each in 2022. This year both countries have doubled that number, to two female chairs each.

In Finland, Sari Baldauf is the chair of Nokia and Annika Paasikivi chairs the board of new constituent Uponor.

In Sweden, Kate Swann chairs the board of Beijer Ref, and Katarina Martinson is the chair of Indutrade. Both companies are new constituents. Gun Nilsson stepped down as chair of Hexagon in May 2023.

In terms of their leadership routes, a majority of female chairs of the boards under review (six, 60%) were internal appointments, having previously served elsewhere on the board they currently chair.

Chair Board Previous board role Age at cut-off date Main functional experience
Orla Noonan Adevinta None 53 Division CEO
Kate Swann Beijer Ref None 58 CEO
Dominique Reiniche Chr. Hansen Vice Chair 68 Regional President
Olaug Svarva DNB Bank None 65 Investment director
Deirdre Connelly Genmab Deputy chair 63 CEO
Gisele Marchand Gjensidige Forsikring NED 65 CEO
Katarina Martinson Indutrade NED 42 Executive
Sari Baldauf Nokia Vice chair 68 VP
Annika Paasikivi Uponor Deputy chair 48 CEO
Thorhild Widvey Var Energi None 67 Secretary of state
Women in leadership positions

34% of deputy chairs or equivalent are women, a significantly greater proportion than the 25% recorded in 2022. The highest share of female deputy chairs by country is Norway with 45% (up from 20% in 2022), follow by Finland, with 40% (up from 33% in 2022).

Female deputy chairs on Swedish boards follow, with 30%, substantially up from the 22% seen in 2022. Denmark has 24%, on a par with last year (24%).

Among committee chairs, there is a notable difference between audit and remuneration chairs. Women represent 55% (45% in 2022) of audit committee chairs, a marked contrast to the 17% female share of remuneration committee chairs (18% last year).

Among audit chairs, the proportion of women ranges from 58% (Denmark) to 50% (Sweden). For remuneration chairs, it ranges from 35% among Norwegian boards to 8% among Danish boards.

Our perspective: Where are the female chairs?

Gender diversity has long been an important topic in Nordic boardrooms and women are well represented on boards across the region. However, the spotlight is now falling on the fact that so few board chairs are women — only 10 among the 100 companies featured in this Board Index.

One potential explanation for why there are so few female chairs is that female board members have less senior-level executive leadership experience compared with their male counterparts. Just 34% of female board directors have group CEO experience compared with 51% for male directors. Only four of the current female chairs have had experience as group CEO.

Given the importance of gender diversity in the boardroom, female non-executives are in high demand. We have seen many women giving up their executive careers early in order to focus on non-executive board roles. The downside of leaving the executive world behind before acquiring P&L experience (i.e. as a CEO or divisional managing director) is that doing so may hinder an individual’s ability to step into a board leadership role.

While there is no question that plenty of women possess the necessary gravitas and leadership skills to chair a board effectively, many boards still prefer their chair to be a former CEO — someone who is able to relate to, and hence more effectively spar with, the CEO.

Additionally, since a common route to becoming CEO is through having served as CFO, COO or in a P&L role, many women who have pursued careers in HR, communications, or marketing have found themselves at a disadvantage.

This raises an important question: how best to assess chair candidates that looks beyond their executive career experience and focuses on the necessary intrinsic qualities for chairing a board?

Chairs must have a deep understanding of governance, stakeholder management, and financial markets. CFOs often have a robust understanding of these topics and we see a growing number of former CFOs becoming board chairs.

We do believe that the pipeline of female leadership talent is getting stronger and that more women will be considered for board chair roles over time. More women are occupying CFO and COO roles, potentially leading to more women being appointed CEO. We also see more women sitting on listed boards, including in board leadership positions: the proportion of female vice chairs has significantly increased from last year, and women dominate as chairs of audit committees. In many companies the CFO position is a route to the CEO position once the CFO has gained sufficient executive leadership experience. Hence, there seems to be an obvious opportunity to do the same for boards!

Foreign directors

We define foreign directors as having a nationality that differs from that of the company. On this basis, foreign directors account for 38% of all board members, on par with 38% in 2022. However, it should be noted that 26% of foreign directors hold at least one Nordic nationality.

Foreign directors in 2022


Denmark has the highest share of foreign directors with 56% non-nationals, an increase from the 2022 figure (51%). Norway’s share is the next-largest, with 39% foreign directors (2022, 42%).

Foreign directors make up 36% of Finnish boards. A slight decrease from the 39% seen in 2022.

Sweden records the least diverse boards in terms of foreign representation on average, with 26% foreign directors. However, that share marks an increase from 25% in 2022, and maintains steady growth during the past few years.

25 chairs (25%) in the region are foreign, of which 14 are in Denmark. This is a slight increase from 2022 figures (22%). Five chairs (19%) in Norway are foreign. Both Sweden and Finland have the lowest proportion of foreign chairs (three chairs or 12% of chairs are foreign, respectively), although the shares do represent slight growth from 2022 (two chairs or 8% of chairs were foreign).

In terms of non-Nordic foreign directors, the majority (65%) are from Europe, followed by North America (26%). In terms of specific nationalities, US nationals make up 24% of non-Nordic foreign board members, closely followed by British nationals (22%).

Non-nordic foreign directors

Background and experience

The most common functional experience among the cohort of board members under review is that of group CEO (44%), followed by general management experience (32%). Group CFOs make up 9%, followed by Collectively, other C-suite positions are seen on 5% of profiles.

On the other hand, the most common functional experience among female board directors is general management experience (37%), followed by Group CEO (34%). CFOs make up 14%, and other C-suite positions collectively 7%.

Functional backgrounds

In terms of sectors, an industrial background is the most common, making up 35% of all board profiles, irrespective of gender. It is followed by financial services (23%) and TMT&S (17%).

All New Female New female
Industrial 267 41 91 16
TMT&S 132 12 70 6
Healthcare 50 8 19 4
Consumer 84 12 38 6
Financial services 175 30 58 9
Private Equity 20 0 4 0
Education & Social Impact 31 2 19 1

This breakdown is in line with the number of companies in each sector in our sample. 49% of companies fall under the Industrial sector, and 17% and 13% are categorised as financial services and TMT&S, respectively.

On average, over half the board (52%) tend to have a main industry background that is related to the industry the board operates in.

Breadth of diversity in the boardroom

While boardroom diversity cannot be captured exclusively by quantitative measures, hallmark indicators are useful to highlight boardrooms where the greatest diversity is evident.

As well as previous functional and sector experience, female and foreign representation on the board are important indicators of diversity. Younger directors may also add a different perspective to boardroom discussions.

Boardroom diversity (Top companies in the Nordics)

Most women
Nordic Semiconductor 67% 4
Cargotec 63% 5
GN Store Nord 60% 3
Most NEDs under 50
Nordic Semiconductor & Mowi 67%
Leroy Seafood 50%
AutoStore 44%
Most foreign directors
Adevinta 91%
Novo Nordisk 88%
TGS 86%